Elaine Garvican: Running Back to Basics

Being told to take things back to basics is never easy, especially when it stops you from doing what you want to do. However in this blog Race Team athlete Elaine Garvican writes about how she made huge gains with her running by doing just this and actually, rather counter intuitively stopping running.

In 2015, I ran a 1:27 half marathon, 39:06 at the Bupa 10k and 3:27 at the end of Ironman Austria. I’m not listing these run times to boast in any way, but to set the scene, which is this: I was a decent, solid runner, and although I would make up the majority of places in a triathlon on the bike (consistently coming out of the swim a long way down) I was usually pretty confident that I could at least hold my own on the run. I knew I didn’t look particularly pretty, or graceful while running and I always wondered how people would get race photos with both feet off the ground, but I was more bothered about what the clock would say at the end of the run than about how I looked during it. I joined the Tri Training Harder Race Team in January 2016 and since I had a Championship start for the London Marathon, I thought the early part of the year would be focused on my running with my A race, Ironman Weymouth, not until September. In a way I was right, but not quite in the format I expected!

The Race Team is supported by

The Bosworth Clinic

, where we have regular Integrated Support Team (IST) assessments for physiotherapy, nutrition, psychology and strength & conditioning. The first of these was in Portugal in January, where I met clinic owner and founder Gordon Bosworth for the first time and my eyes were opened to the physical limitations in the way I moved. I was an incredibly quad dominant runner, with almost nothing in the way of a drive phase – the reason I never got those pictures with both feet off the ground was quite simply that both feet never were simultaneously off the ground! It was a classic “Ironman shuffle” style of running, and although I could shuffle to a reasonable speed, I had reached something of a ceiling, with this technique representing a significant limiter. The reason for all this, Gordon told me, was my ridiculously tight hip flexors. Physically, my legs were moving as well as they could, but I was incapable of opening up from the hip to generate any drive. So phase one was to stretch them. And stretch them. And stretch them. Oh, and meanwhile, stop running.

The former was not exactly difficult, but it was tedious. I stretched when I first got up in the morning. I stretched at lunch and while watching TV in the evenings. I stretched every time I got up from my desk to make a cup of tea. I stretched a lot. Progress seemed painstakingly slow at first, but bit by bit those insanely tight muscles lengthened out a bit. It wasn’t comfortable a lot of the time, but it beats having your femoral nerve flossed, and I wanted to run as soon as possible, so there were plenty of incentive. Not running was hard though. I wasn’t injured, I was fit, I was healthy and I had a race goal looming, so putting that on ice on the promise of future benefits was hard. I was new to the Team, new to The Bosworth Clinic and my

coaching relationship with Philip

was also very new, so it was a test of trust and belief in my new team, but trust and believe in them I did. So I stretched.

Unfortunately, phase two was tougher to navigate. My hip flexors had been so tight for so long that they had taken on the starring role in the job of stabilizing my pelvis, which now became pretty unstable. I experienced crippling sheering pain in my lower back when I cycled, and it seemed every day something different would tighten up, rotating my pelvis one way or another and making me feel incredibly off balance. During this time, I required a lot of physiotherapy to continually readjust me and try to educate the muscles and tendons as to what was the new normal, and I had to sacrifice my spring marathon plans to the bigger picture and my later season goals. Meanwhile, Paul Ledger (The Bosworth Clinic’s excellent S&C coach) set me a program of core, calf raises, single leg squats and plyometrics and we continued with the constant stretching. I was also able to spend some time out in Portugal where we are looked after by our incredibly patient, fully dedicated and very thorough physiotherapist, Sharon. I remember one particularly painful morning we spent at the track as I ran 800m repeats, and she checked and readjusted me between each one, as different things seemed to rebel and tighten up at different times throughout the session. At times I thought I might never be “fixed”, but eventually my system settled down and I was able to run further, longer and faster.

All this meant that we were playing catch up a fair bit with run training for the season. My first race (the British Middle Distance Championships at the


) was only 3 weeks after I got the go ahead to run again, so by the time race day arrived, the furthest I had run was 7 miles, and all of that was easy. But, thanks to that muscular work and a decent amount of fitness developed on the bike, I was able to turn out a surprisingly un-embarrassing performance. Since then, it has been all systems go, with a lot of hard work in trainers to try and make up for lost time and 5 months later, I ran a 3:23 marathon – the

fastest female marathon

of the day – at Ironman Weymouth to win my AG.

Phase three is still to come – last week I met with the uber-intelligent Paul Brice for a run biomechanics assessment and my support team believes we can make similar improvements this year with one or two further tweaks, enabling me to run even quicker for less effort. My deferred VLM Championship start will be the test for that, but I’m pretty excited about where another year of run training will get me.

Meanwhile – I still stretch!